With all the controversy in my faith these days with our priests, how can I continue to live and practice my faith as I should? I receive many negative comments regarding my religion and priests and feel that I need to stand tall, but inside I am very confused and worried. Please help me with trying to understand this tragedy. — Thom, Pennsylvania

Thank you for your question, which looms large these days in many people’s minds. We forwarded it to Father Richard Rohr, OFM, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM, who -- understanding your worry and confusion – felt this complex issue deserved more than a brief response. He pointed us to his July-August 2002 article “Beyond Crime and Punishment” in Sojourners magazine. Rohr writes that for Christians, the “learning curve is at an all-time high”: “Our Christian goal must still be the healing and reconciliation of the individual and, by implication, of the society. Mercy, patience, forgiveness, absolute trust in the possibility of growth and transformation, and God's power to save are our specialties, our primary products. We dare not be so hard on ourselves that we forget that we are much more protective of the individual and confidentiality than the system is, even though, most unfortunately, we did not protect the victims in this case. Yet, I have done the same in giving pastoral advice to wife abusers, murderers, and rapists at the county jail. I tell them what they must do, yet I have no access to the offended party—except through them! I just pray and hope that the absolution and advice have some salutary effect. There is much room for anger and a sense of betrayal in today's situation, but people must be fair and know that this is the ‘also good’ framework that we confessors worked out of for most of our lives.

“Our goal is restorative justice, while the best the system can do is retributive justice. The Law cannot ever promise God's restorative justice, much less offer true transformation. We have something much better to give, and we had better not lose it out of fear of lawsuits or fear of looking foolish. We dare not lose our compassion, our patience, our trust, our solidarity with sinners, our capacity for simple kindness, or we have lost everything Jesus taught us. We must both protect victims and heal sinners on both sides, an awesome task in this context.”

You can read Father Rohr’s entire article – which covers not only restorative justice but also the difference between the world’s agenda and the Christian position, “the myth of Male Celibacy,” and a reconsideration of the role of celibacy within the priesthood – by clicking on “Beyond Crime and Punishment” on this page. The same page will bring you to related articles about ecumenical solutions, the scandal's effect on women’s role in the church, and accountability within Catholicism in the July-August 2002 Sojourners.

-- Network for Grateful Living Team